Meet The Democrats: Ben Cannon
Editor's Note: Over the next several weeks, we're going to introduce you to the ten new Democrats in the Oregon Legislature. We're starting with Ben Cannon.
This spring, Ben Cannon won a competitive five-way primary with 42% of the vote. He'll represent HD 46, a portion of Northeast and Southeast Portland centered on Mount Tabor (map).
He's a Rhodes Scholar who returned home to Oregon to teach middle-school. He's a board member for the Bus Project, and led their education policy team. In 2005, he contributed a BlueOregon guest column - "An optimist on school funding".
During his campaign, Ben refused special interest contributions, and pledged to be the tallest member of the Oregon legislature -- a campaign promise he appears to have easily kept. There's more at VoteBenCannon.com.
We asked Representative-elect Cannon a few questions:
What was the best job you've had that didn't involve politics?
My current one: I am a full-time teacher of Humanities to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. We study cultures of the world by looking at their history, literature, geography, art, music, beliefs, and food. It is tremendously gratifying to help connect these students to other people and places, as well as to current events.
What's the most important issue facing Oregon? What's the long-term solution, and what can be done in the short term?
It is so difficult to separate these issues: education, environment, revenue...
But if I had to pick just one, I would say that education is our greatest challenge. As our society becomes increasing diverse -- and, in other ways, increasingly strained -- how will our public school system (pre-k through higher ed) adapt to help prepare kids for the economic, political, and scientific demands of the 21st century?
The short-term solution is to pass an education budget in 2007 that reverses recent trends and restores smaller class sizes, longer school years, lower tuition increases, etc.
The long-term solution is to foster a culture of innovation in education by ensuring stable funding, easing mandates, and developing alternatives to test-centered accountability.
If you found yourself alone with an entire day all to yourself, how would you spend it?
Kind of hard to imagine. But I would probably cook, read, do a crossword puzzle, and revive the art of the handwritten letter.
What books have you read lately?
Young adult: Tangerine, London Calling (both by Edward Bloor)
Old adult: Sometimes a Great Notion (Ken Kesey), The Path to Power (Caro's LBJ biography, volume 1), District and Circle (Seamus Heaney poetry)
Name one Oregonian, past or present, who inspires you - and tell us why.
John Kitzhaber. As a legislator and as governor, he struck a great balance between pragmatism and principle. I am inspired by his commitment and courage as a citizen pushing health care reform.
Ducks or Beavers?
Er, both. Didn't attend either.
Tell us one thing that no one knows about you.
No one? I had a veggie hot dog today for lunch.
As a first-term legislator, what do you hope to accomplish?
I hope to help increase connections between the public and the capitol. I hope to help pass energy, ethics, and education-related legislation. I hope to provide exceptional service to constituents.
Why do you live in Oregon?
My family is here. Also, the state's extraordinary natural environment, its careful land use planning, and legacy of progressive policymaking.
Name three favorite movies.
The Third Man, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Apocalypse Now
What did you learn on the campaign trail that you didn't know before - about yourself, about your district, and about Oregon?
About myself: There is a limit to the number of doors I can knock in a day. It's hard to be a good listener when you're listening to someone who's wrong. Public speaking is fun. I need to read the Oregonian thoroughly before speaking at a coffee on a Sunday morning.
About my district: There are tons of families with kids in public schools. Parts of Portland would give you the impression that families have abandoned the city. Not in HD46.
About Oregon: Younger people *do* care about politics, and they're getting involved. The 2007 legislature will have five new members under the age of 35!
Dec. 01, 2006
Posted in open discussion.
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Dec 1, '06
Nested within Ben's answer to the "most important issue" question is the $64000 question:
The major barrier to good education in Oregon is funding; put another way, the ailments affecting education are a syptom of the problem, not the problem itself. (Since funding has been so low for so long, that's not entirely true, but prior to Measure 5, Oregon was among the leaders in education.)
So my question, if Ben's reading, is what he thinks we might do to stabilize revenue streams in Oregon so they aren't at the mercy of economic tides.
Dec 1, '06
I'd encourage folks to post questions here for Ben. Might be a useful opportunity to start a dialogue.
Dec 1, '06
Does that mean Ben's a vegetarian? How many vegetarians do we have in the Legislature?
And Ben, are you (or someone else in the legislature) going to take on the initiative system so that 25 signatures won't get a person a ballot title?
Dec 1, '06
I have never thought of this before, but how does the salary system work when a public school teacher is elected to the legislature? Does the teacher have to take a leave of absence without pay for the duration of the legislature? I assume they receive the nominal legislative salary, but that must be painful if that is the way it works.
On the policy side, how do we protect the universal right to a free public education in the face of increasing pressure for "privatization" in nearly every other aspect of society?
Good Luck, Ben!
Dec 1, '06
Look at him. Definitely a terrorist.
Dec 1, '06
Public education is a liberal democracy's crowning success in overcoming our natural tendency to focus on short-term concerns. What could be more future-oriented than to ensure that kids are prepared to carry on our society?
And yet ... public education is under attack by the me-first anti-tax factions, and losing the battle in most major cities.
I don't agree that it's a "funding" problem. I think it's deeper than that. I think the problem is public disaffection with government (taxes, PERS, corruption, you name it) that leads in turn to a reluctance to provide tax support.
I hope that Ben and the rest of our current and new leaders will understand how important it will be to exercise strong, public leadership and get people believing again that good government -- including well-funded public education at all levels -- is a good investment. Let's get out into local communities at every opportunity and sell it!
Dec 1, '06
"Ben took a position teaching Humanities to 6-8 graders at the Arbor School of Arts and Sciences, an elementary school in Tualatin."
Arbor School is private, not public.
Dec 1, '06
As an Arbor alumnus from about 10 years ago, I knew for sure when I heard that Ben was working there that was clearly a special talent. Good luck, we're all rooting for you!
Dec 1, '06
Question for Ben:
With China's economy racing at 10% annual growth, poised to exceed ours by 2050 and perhaps double ours by the end of the century, does he think more than 0.5% of our high school graduates should have at least two years of high school Mandarin? Or more than 35 (0.044% of total enrollment)of our Oregon Univesity System students should be spending a year abroad in China?
Thomas L. Friedman's wrote in the NY Times and The Oregonian that "I still believe that when the history of this era is written, the trend that historians will cite as the most significant will not be 9/11 and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It will be the rise of China and India. How the world accommodates itself to these rising powers, and how America manages the economic opportunities and challenges they pose, is still the most important global trend to watch." Does Ben agree. And will Ben support, in Friedman's terms "a surge in protectionist legislation, more Wal-Mart bashing, a slowdown in free-trade expansion and increased calls for punitive actions if China doesn't reduce its trade surplus" or making "the kind of comprehensive changes in health care, portability of pensions, entitlements and lifelong learning to give America's middle class the best tools possible to thrive?"
Does Ben have a China policy?
Good luck, Ben!!!
Dec 1, '06
How much of the "China policy" questions are about federal rather than legislative issues?
However, having worked with visiting Asian students, I would hope that rather than the teacher-union bashing we've seen for lo these many years the next legislature would spotlight all Oregon schools and private institutions which actually provide a way for Oregon kids to learn about Asian language and culture and maybe even meet visiting Asian students.
Dec 3, '06
Ben Cannon gives me hope.
Dec 3, '06
To Ben (and Evan),
I hope you will protect the voters right to act when the politicians do not.
Also, will you support strong measures by Oregon to help halt global warming? Do you teach about global warming in your humanities classes? Do you teach them that some of these places they are learning about will be severely impacted by global warming?
Dec 4, '06
Paul, even a concern about global warming leads to the issue of teaching more Mandarin in our schools.
Rich Read in his Oregonian (11/24/06) article “China’s dirty exports: Mercury and soot” writes: “The enormous dust clouds gather in the Gobi Desert. They sail on Siberian winds to China. They pick up mercury, aerosols and carbon monoxide spewed by Chinese coal plants and factories.
“Then every five or six days in spring, eastern China flushes like a gigantic toilet. The dust plumes, now as large as countries, ride high over the Pacific Ocean, pushing hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and ozone.
“They reach Oregon in less than a week, sullying springtime views at Crater Lake and scattering dust as far as Maine. Researchers climb an ice-encrusted ladder atop Mount Bachelor's Summit Express ski-lift tower and collect the evidence.
“Beyond the views, China's contaminants affect Oregon in two key ways:
“A growing amount of the greenhouse gases that trap heat, shrink Northwest glaciers and raise ocean levels comes from China.
“A substantial share of the mercury that pollutes the Willamette River, making fish unsafe to eat, has traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific.”
So how do we, and our next generations, work with China on environmental issues? Can we look to our national government for leadership? Would it help if more Oregon students learned Mandarin and spent time in China? If yes, what does that mean for educational policies at the state level in Oregon where currently less than one percent of high school graduates have had two years or more of Mandarin? What should we be willing to do?
Dec 4, '06
I was hoping you would have taken up Kari on his offer to start a dialogue...
....there are some good questions above.
That is what I enjoy about this blog... the comments.
Dec 5, '06
Lots of good comments and questions here. I'll do my best to touch on them.
What does he think we might do to stabilize revenue streams in Oregon so they aren't at the mercy of economic tides?
As I'm sure Jeff A. knows, there are two broad approaches to stabilizing revenue. One is to keep the same tax system but build a substantially bigger rainy day fund. The second is to shift the tax system's emphasis away from volatile taxes (e.g. income) and towards stable ones (e.g. consumption).
I am open to both approaches, with certain caveats. If we go with the rainy day fund, we must make sure it's large enough to weather the type of downturn we experienced earlier this decade. That means more than 5-10% -- probably something on the order of 15-20% of general fund. The kicker puts an awfully big hurdle in front of us if we want to reach this target. While I'm optimistic that we might suspend (and eventually repeal) the corporate kicker, the same fate isn't imminent for the personal.
Tax reform that reduces reliance on the income tax suffers from regressivity. But if tax reform can be shown to reduce taxes for low-income Oregonians and increase revenue I’m all for it. The Schrader/Morse/Westlund/Deckert plan is at least promising in this regard.
Does that mean Ben's a vegetarian?
Ben, like every true-blooded American, enjoys a veggie hot dog every now and then. I am not, however, a vegetarian. My wife is, and we eat vegetarian at home.
Ben, are you (or someone else in the legislature) going to take on the initiative system so that 25 signatures won't get a person a ballot title?
The initiative system needs reform, and this is a start. I will work on this issue as a Legislator. Keep your eyes peeled for a City Club report on this topic some time in the next couple of months.
how does the salary system work when a public school teacher is elected to the legislature? Does the teacher have to take a leave of absence without pay for the duration of the legislature?
As someone else noted, I am a private school teacher, so I can’t speak for what happens in the public schools. It is the case that I will take a leave of absence without pay for the duration of the session, but I will return to full-time (or something close to it) teaching during the interim. As I noted here, this is about a break-even deal financially.
Does Ben have a China policy?
Er, my staff is working on it.
Seriously, here’s how I see it from this little corner of the world. Congress should insist on fairer trade conditions, not just trade liberalization. Nevertheless, our interdependence with China (economic, environmental, educational) is going to continue to grow and America must invest in the middle-class opportunity tools that Friedman describes. Look, probability alone tells us that a country of going on 2 billion people, increasing numbers of them well-educated, is going to produce the brilliant minds that solve some of the globe’s 21st century problems - scientific, environmental, medical. If for that reason alone, we should be fostering greater links between our two countries. I support additional instruction in Mandarin and additional study abroad opportunities for Oregonians in China.
Will you support strong measures by Oregon to help halt global warming? Do you teach about global warming in your humanities classes? Do you teach them that some of these places they are learning about will be severely impacted by global warming?
Oregon should meet or surpass Washington and California in emissions standards, energy-saving incentives, and investment in renewable energy sources. One of my top goals as a legislator is to bring more attention and, frankly, more of a crisis mentality to this issue. Is there a generational dimension to this? I’m 30, and climate and sea-level forecasts for 2050 seem pretty relevant. My students are 12. We talk about it - they get it better than many adults.
Dec 5, '06